What Impact will Cory Booker have on Senate Education Policy?
New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker was elected to the Senate on Wednesday, filling the seat of the deceased Democrat Frank Lautenberg. The seat, which was held in the interim by Republican Jeff Chiesa, now returns to the Democrats, increasing the number of Senators caucusing with the Democrats to 55. While the number 55 itself holds no legislative significance, Booker’s election will likely increase the chances of education reform in the Senate.
Booker enters the Senate as a rare breed of Senator. He is a young, nationally popular Democrat seeking the national spotlight, something Senate Democrats have lacked in comparison to Republicans like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. Booker’s popularity and national following will likely give him a strong position in the Senate despite his youth and inexperience. The symbolic representation of being one of now only two Black Senators should also help catapult him into the legislative spotlight. In summary, Senate Democrats are likely to look to Booker as a new figurehead for the party, giving him a powerful platform for introducing new legislation.
When Booker was mayor of Newark, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of him, “You have a mayor who is actively engaged. A lot of mayors run from education because it’s difficult and challenging. He’s running to it.” As mayor, Booker tackled a number of important education issues, including a $100 million grant from Mark Zuckerberg to improve Newark schools and give urban youth more opportunities to succeed. His campaign website also lists the following accomplishments:
- More kids in preschool: 61 percent more 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in public preschool;
- Tackling illiteracy: Raised philanthropy to provide 120,000 books for nearly 12,000 low-income students at 20 Newark public schools to help build home libraries;
- Options: Attracted new public school models, leading to families having more quality public education choices;
- Healthier families: By this fall Newark will have doubled the number of schools served by school-based health centers, which serve students and their families with medical, dental and behavioral health care.
- Places to play: Expanded acres of school athletic fields and playgrounds;
- Empowering teachers: Establishment of a “Teacher Innovation Fund” that pays for ideas teachers have to improve student outcomes;
- Rewarding good teachers: Facilitated a groundbreaking teacher’s union contract that made the district the first in New Jersey to offer performance bonuses to effective teachers, and holding accountable ineffective teachers who are failing our kids.
Booker’s devotion to education combined with the myriad of problems in the U.S. school system would make education a perfect issue for him to bring forward or encourage as a new Democratic figurehead. In addition to K-12 education, Booker has also stressed the importance of making higher education more affordable, something Congress has struggled to deal with over the last few months. Now that the shutdown and debt ceiling crises have ended (at least for now), Congress should ideally be looking to create some good news for a change. While immigration reform seems to be the next big item on the list, education reform would be a widely popular move as well, since education has such a broad reach and directly touches the lives of nearly every U.S. citizen. Though Booker has made no explicit statements about putting major education reform on the Congressional agenda, the political atmosphere is ripe for doing so. Booker’s youth and popularity would make him the perfect spokesman for such a bill, and even if such a bill would not be filibuster-proof (see my last post) or would fail to pass the House, it would certainly garner national attention, shifting the focus of the media away from politics and towards actual issues in need of reform.